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DIY: Wild Lawn


DIY: Wild Lawn

March 19, 2015

My brother-in-law’s mother, Molly, has a house in Oregon on a cliff overlooking the ocean (if ever there was a place you do not want to wrestle a mower…). She came up with a recipe for a low-maintenance lawn of native plants and wildflowers that needs little water, stands up to wind and weather, and looks attractive year-round. Here’s how:

Photography by Erin Boyle.

Above: My brother-in-law’s family beach house is part of a compound of connected cottages constructed to replace a previous house that nearly tumbled into the sea because of erosion in the 1990s.

In the decade or since since the new beach house was built,  Molly has been nurturing its wild lawn. with advice from her friend, garden designer John Brookes.

Above: Brookes’ first piece of advice: “Just see what comes.” The truth is the advice was partly an admission that he wasn’t willing to take on the task of designing a garden by the sea. Salt air, constant wind, and the added complication that beach homes aren’t often a primary residence can make designing a beach house garden something of a challenge (just ask Justine).

So Molly decided to create her own low-maintenance lawn, using native seeds collected from seed savers in the area. Molly relied on lawn mixes developed by local nurseries. Nichols Nursery in Albany, Oregon, was the first she found. The nursery’s Northern Ecology Lawn Mix includes Colonial Bentgrass, Strawberry and Dutch White Clover, Wild English Daisies, Roman Chamomile, Yarrow and Baby Blue Eyes; $11.65 for a 1/8 pound bag.

More recently, Molly has used a mix from Hobbs and Hopkins in Portland; a 1-pound bag of Fleur de Lawn is $29.95. As Molly explains, “My ‘lawn’ is a humble mix of whatever has survived.”

The process was a slow one–with many of the seeds taking up to three years to germinate. Ten years in, the meadow largely takes care of itself. The family mows the lawn just twice a year, in the spring and fall, to make sure that the plants have ample opportunity to self-seed between mowings.

Above: Maintaining a uniform height is a challenge in a meadow. The dwarf yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a solid addition that doesn’t overpower the grasses, but adds a pleasant variation.

Above: In late summer the meadow is filled with grasses, clover, and yarrow. In the springtime, it’s full to bursting with bright blue baby blue eyes (Nemphila menziesi) and buttercups.

Above: Stretching out in the yard in front of the beach house, the meadow might not be the best spot to play croquet, but its soft grasses are still pleasant to walk on in bare feet. You can take my word.

Above: Gratuitous sunset shot? Maybe. But just look at that sweet flowering lawn.

For more lawn alternatives, see:

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